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KEEPING ACTIVE: UNCE offers winter garden advice, fall classes for adults and 4-H programs for kids

Winter is rearing its head and with the cooler weather comes a less-active lifestyle than is healthy for most of us. The University of Nevada is either getting you outdoors, providing classes for gardeners, hosting health seminars or sponsoring activities for the kids throughout the winter. No excuses, get off of the sofa.

Beginning with winter gardening or gardening in general, most people take one look at the natural landscape and think “I could never grow anything here.” Wrong. “The desert soil is more than dirt…” is a common quote around the University of Nevada Cooperative Extension (UNCE) office and the Master Gardeners are proving it.

It’s harvest time which for most gardeners also means planting for winter, working soil, preparing seeds, preserving what they harvest, and showing off the fruits of their labor. The invitation has been extended to visit some of the small farms and gardens and learn.

The first ever fall tour of Pahrump Master Gardeners and Farmer’s Market growers will be open on October 27, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. “You will learn from your senses,” said one gardener who wished to remain unnamed. He said, “You’ll see, hear advice and ideas that work, smell the fruits, herbs and rich soils at each place on the tour, and you’ll understand that you can do this (gardening) in this desert.”

Those who participate in the tour will find gardens located in all areas of the Pahrump Valley. A map of the five stops with tour information is available at the UNCE office at 1651 E. Calvada.

The tour will give visitors an opportunity to see exotic plants, note the differences in soil types, get information on effective composting, learn about organic gardening and learn how to harvest seeds for next year. Growers will discuss drip-water systems, organic prevention of insect invasion, covering crops for a longer growing season, and get other advice from those who are already masters of gardening and farming.

“People come here and find out that they can do the very thing that seemed to them impossible: grow things in the desert,” said Master Gardener Coordinator Debby Woodland. “People who have never dreamed they could raise beautiful and bountiful fruits and vegetables say, ‘Look, I can do it!’”

Alan, a local “Cottage” business owner, said,“Nobody said it was easy.” Just growing a tomato in southern Nevada is not as easy here as it is in some places. “With a few simple, but important steps, taught by the Master Gardeners and farmers, most people can raise beautiful tomatoes in pots and harvest enough to make sauces, soups and all kinds of things. People tend to think it’s just not possible but this dirt will do what you tell it to,” he said.

One flier at the extension office is titled: Starting a Worm Farm.” Earthworms are called “mini-rototillers because they move through the soil becomming “nature’s recyclers.” Most master gardeners will swear by earthworms, which can be purchased locally, in some cases from gardeners in the area, or from organic seed catalogs.

One gardener named John noted, “Desert gardening needs worms like humans need whole grains.” He said worms can change the texture of soil, and both build it up and smooth it out. “Next is adding compost to break up the clay, full of calcium and highly alkaline. And adding sulfur is another thing you need to help balance the pH.”

“Best of all, you don’t have to buy soil,” said Woodland. Learning how to work with the soil here, find the best seed, the means to protect it from insects, predators and weather factors and have it yield a successful crop are all things being taught through the fall season at the extension office.

Cool season plants that can be raised in this area include: asparagus, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, green leafies, horseradish, onions, herbs, and even, peas and radishes. Gardeners in the area say that the Pahrump and Amargosa valleys are fertile places to grow regular and exotic fruits and vegetables, a fact that many newcomers don’t yet know. Artichokes and persimmons, Italian and French grapes, all manner of deep green leafy vegetables and much more are all grown in the finest organic soils, many from heirloom seeds with just the right amount of water, and tons of sun.

Woodland said, “Many people in these parts raise beautiful crops each and every year. Ground already worked one year will yield better crops the next year and the next after that and so on. It’s just a matter of starting and starting right,” she said.

Besides the Fall Tour of Gardeners and Farmers, food preservation classes are ongoing. This series is quickly filling, but Woodland quickly added, “Call us. Our present classes are filling but if there is continued interest we will likely start a whole new series for those who missed the first round.” The next class will be Oct. 17 and covers pressure canning.

Other subjects include preserving jams and jellies, hot water canning techniques for high acid vegetables, dehydration techniques for fruits and vegetables, pickle-making and freezing. Attendees watch as well as listen and learn, and have opportunities to participate in some of the processes.

In addition to the tour and fall preservation classes, a special course called “Seniors CAN” at the Inspirations Senior Living center is also ongoing.

Brain health, care-giving, multiple sclerosis, simple exercises to improve balance, advances in research for Alzheimer’s disease, memory improvement and adding good physical activity to the daily agenda and other programs for well-being are happening now and through the winter at the extension office.

Products of the gardeners and farmers are for sale at the Farmer’s Market on Wednesdays at Star Nursery and Saturdays at Petrack Park, from 7 a.m. to 11 a.m. The location will change for Saturday market on November 23 when they move to Home Depot. In addition to foods of all kinds, the new Cottage Law has allowed people to create baked, dried and preserved foods for sale; others make products from “Up-Cycled” materials. “Up-Cycled” is a new term for re-cycled, and has caught on nation and world-wide.

Information on classes, Master Gardener’s program, and events is available at the extension office. The 4-H office is in the same location and for kids’ programs. Ongoing 4-H programs include Anime-Lillie, Barnyard Animals, Community Club, Crafts, Junior Master Gardeners, K-9 Kapers, Rock Hounds, Sewing, Shooting Sports, Teen Leadership and other new classes through the winter.

For additional information call Debby Woodland at 727.5532.

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